Gaither claims district crown as Brunet, Mirza go yard

Senior Kevin Brunet is fired up rounding third on his first home run of the season, giving Gaither the deciding run in the fourth inning of Thursday’s Class 6A-District 9 championship

By Mike Camunas, Creative Director

NORTHDALE — Kevin Brunet doesn’t like hitting curveballs.

So, in a crucial game, in a clutch situation, with the district championship on the line, the senior left-handed hitter decided to wait for a fastball.

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And it paid off — a solo homer in the fourth inning, for Brunet’s first of the year helped propel Gaither to a 11-1 win over Leto for the Class 6A-9 district title at Frank Permuy Field on Thursday evening.

“I saw two curveballs, but I don’t like hitting curveballs,” Brunet said. “I waited for that fastball and in my first AB, I was late on it and flared it to leftfield (for an out) and I just said I wasn’t going to be late on it again — and I wasn’t.”

Leto starting pitcher Denzel Martinez struck out four in his four innings, taking the loss after allowing two earned runs.

It was an exclamation point on Brunet’s season that started off horrid, but has gradually turned Brunet into the Cowboy’s No. 5 hitter. Through the first seven games to start the season, Brunet was 0-for-18 — he was making contact, but just couldn’t get the ball into play.

“It was a rough patch,” he added. “I was piecing balls off — I wasn’t striking out, I just wasn’t getting the ball to land, so I decided to just to start to look for one pitch to hit, and I was just seeing pitches better.

“I just want to thank Coach (Nelson) North, for sure, because a lot of coaches wouldn’t stick with you — they would just drop you,” he said, “and North didn’t and the teammates were there for me, always supporting me, too.”

Leto’s Erik Perez starts his slide into third base on an error. Perez walked and stole a base in the loss. 

Faith in Brunet paid off, as for the rest of the season coming off a sidelining knee injury in 2023, including into Thursday’s game, he would hit .353 with 12 hits, 10 RBI and the homer vs. the Falcons.

“I don’t want to say he is the hardest worker on the team, but he may be the hardest worker on the team,” Nelson said. “I’m very happy for him. He came back from that knee injury and worked hard and he’s always had that in him and he never gave up.

“And it’ll say 0-for-18 or whatever on MaxPreps, but he was hitting the ball hard — had some loud outs, so it’s not like he was striking out and not seeing the ball. He was just real unlucky and has been playing really well lately, just at the right time.”

Gaither (18-6) got on the board quickly as junior centerfield and USF commit Jackson Mirza hit a leadoff homer in the first, giving him his team-lead-tying third of the season. Mirza would also drive in a run with an RBI walk later in the game.

Gaither junior Eddy Rojo rushes home to score a run. Rojo was 1-for-1 with a double, two RBI in the win.

Leto (13-14) kept the game close until the Cowboys added two more in the fifth, thanks to a wild pitch that scored Angel Hernandez and then an RBI single by Josh Choe that scored Mirza.

Even though the Falcons would get one back when Emilio Monje grounded into a bases-loaded fielder’s choice to score Dariel Breton, Gaither blew the door open in the bottom of the sixth, scoring seven runs and reaching the mercy rule.

Choe would drive in two RBI in the game, while Nico Lopez and Eddy Rojo added two more apiece, and Ryder Warriner also drove in a run.

Gaither senior Mikey Fernandez struck out 12 while earning his eighth win of the season. 

But it was senior southpaw Mikey Fernandez who got back to “doing Mikey Fernandez things,” as the Miami commit pitched 5 ⅓ innings, allowed just two hits and an earned run, walked three and hit two batters.

Fernandez also struck out 12, including six straight to start the game.

“Strikeouts, for sure, make me smile,” Fernandez said, “but they were chirping a lot, so that kind of fed into the groove. … I was a little skeptical that I would get (the start) because they could have lost to Armwood, but I’m glad I got it and came out and did the same thing (to them) sophomore year (when I struck out 8 over 4 ⅓innings).”

“Mikey pitched well,” North added, “and I liked that he mixed in some curveballs and changeups as well, so he definitely pitched better since he had been overthrowing a bit and relying too much on the fastball.

“But it’ll be good to roll this start into next week.”

Jackson Mirza is all smiles after scoring one of his three runs in the win. The Cowboys junior led off the game with a home run, had two RBI and stole a base. 

For Fernandez, he was just as happy to see his buddy Brunet come up big in the district final.

“I mean, for sure (him getting past the 0-for-18 slump), but since Day 1,” Fernandez said, “since our freshman year, he and I have been together, and for him to came back from the knee injury — it was huge because it was a lot of work on his part.

“I’m just really glad to see him get past the start of the season and get that (homer) tonight.”

Class 6A-9 Championship

#4 Gaither 11, Leto 1 (6)

L  000|001|x – |1|2|2
G 100|127|x – |11|8|1
W – Fernandez (8-1); L – Martinez; S – Linares (3)
2B – Pina, Rojo (G); HR – Mirza, Brunet (G). Records – L (13-14); G (18-6).